If God is like the Ocean, then churches, at their best, are like boats. Their purpose is to carry folks from the shores of ordinary life into the waters of God. They tell the great stories, from scripture and the Christian tradition, of those who have entered these waters before, what they’ve come to know about the love and goodness of God. Through their rituals and sacraments, they offer folks an experience of the Sacred Sea. And they equip folks with tools for exploration, teaching them how to swim and how to dive down deep. In this way, folks not only go out on Sunday sailing expeditions, but they learn to spend more and more of their lives in and with God.
The Church is a means to an end; that end is getting us into God. Not just a toe in, and not just ankle-deep, but full-on, whole-life immersion into Mystery.
Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of this central purpose, and confuse the means for the end. Boats can try all manner of things to attract us on board in the first place and keep us there. After all, the harbor is crowded with boats of various shapes and sizes and with different names and emblems emblazoned on their sides. It can be tempting to turn things into a competition, and get overly focused on the numbers of folks who choose your boat or sailing company.
And then, debates and arguments break out on board about various things – what color to paint the sails, which way to arrange the deck furniture, who is welcome to board, how to fix the leak that’s sprung and who’s going to pay for it. To tell you the truth, the sailing crew can spend so much time debating how to best maintain the boat and get folks on board, they rarely have time to get out to Sea.
But no matter what, every seven days or so, each boat pushes out a little from the shore. A hush falls over the crowd on board. In the silence, folks may peer out over the railings and take in the immense beauty and power of the Ocean. We sing and listen to music about the Sea, some of it so moving, the hair on the back of our necks stands straight up. A crew member, hopefully one who has not only sailing, but also diving experience, stands in the bow and shares some of those great stories about the Sea and exploring its depths. We are reminded that we are part of Something so much bigger than ourselves. Hopefully, we come to love and trust the Sea, even if we can’t always understand or control it. And we are invited beyond our life on shore, and life on the boat, into the Sacred Deep.
The question is, do we dive in? Are we inspired enough, and do we find the faith and the guidance we need to plunge into the depths of God?
It’s wonderful being on board, no doubt, but going overboard is what it’s all about. And sometimes a little rocking of the boat may be in order.